BWW Review: The Delightful Melodrama of ABT's GISELLE
American Ballet Theatre's "Giselle" is about feet. The way feet vibrate across a stage in bourée. The way feet nearly touch the rafters on the end of a penché. The way feet execute the most precise jumps in petit allegro. The way feet stretch into a C-shape and lift onto the highest relevé to dance a story of love, loss and life.
To fully understand it, yes, it must be danced perfectly -- as ABT does -- right down to the feet.
Created by the great Jean Coralli, Jules Perrot and Marius Petipa, "Giselle" is an epic about a young woman driven to madness, and eventually death, after falling in love with a man who is not who he says he is. The ballet is as densely plotted as a soap opera, as insane as an episode of Catfish and as darkly romantic as Poe at his most gothic.
The romantic ballet's titular role is one of the most complex. It requires not only impossible control and flexibility in adagio, extreme agility in petit allegro, excellent partnering, but also acting skills worthy of an Oscar. Hee Seo has all of that and more. Her execution of Giselle's most iconic moments -- a difficult series of hops en pointe, an attitude promenade taken at the speed of light, a descent into madness both mimed and danced --- is flawless. It's a testament to her skill she makes one wonder if they couldn't YouTube her solos to try in their living room.
Of course Giselle must be matched by her Count Albrecht. Cory Stearns is delightful as the philandering nobleman, particularly when played against his foil Hilarion (Roman Zhurbin.) When the pair mime their way through Stearns' unmasking, it is so masterful one can hear the fight as if it had dialogue. The look of disdain on Zhurbin's face is pitch perfect.
But if Giselle is known for anything, it is the haunting sweep of Wilis in whispery mist. ABT sets its Wilis against a frightening stage full of lightning, low-rolling fog, and the ominous toll of cemetery bells. When the ensemble is together -- in a 180-degree penché, in a perfect arabesque as they chug across the stage, in a weightless petit allegro-- the stage is so stunning it's chilling.
Wilis Queen Myrta (Devon Teuscher) is a standout when she cooly dismisses Count Albrecht with nothing but an extended hand. Her solo is one of the best parts of the entire ballet, but there's also something enviable about how, just standing still, Teuscher exudes such fierce, feminist energy that it alone deserves applause.
While the cast has some opening night nerves -- a few tense faces, a trembling knee, a slight mismanagement of space, a skirt without an apron -- there isn't any mistake that could break the spell of the beautiful world ABT creates. Conductor Ormsby Wilkins' deft handling of a temperamental score first transports audiences to Giselle's village, before Gianni Quaranta's quaint cottages and warm autumnal color scheme finishes off the immersion. Anna Anni's costuming perfectly accentuates the dancers' bodies while capturing the nuance of peasant life. Even the two dogs -- real dogs -- that prance across the stage appear to be lifted right from the Middle Ages.
The fact that this world was created for such a diverse cast is refreshing when watching a traditional ballet, and is but one reason--aside from the exceptional feet--to go see ABT do what it does best.
American Ballet Theatre's "Giselle" runs February 11-16th at the Kennedy Center Opera House. Tickets start at $49.95.